A Church-sponsored Approach for Engaging Children in the Missionary Task
MAUREEN CROWLEY HEIL
Each year, through the programs and lessons of the Missionary Childhood Association (formerly the Holy Childhood Association), countless Catholic children around the world are learning that, by virtue of their Baptism, they have a missionary vocation.
Bayley’s story: Seven-year-old Bayley of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, should have been excited: Her birthday was approaching, yet she felt unsettled. Mom had promised her a great party with balloons, cake, her friends — even a clown if she wanted it. As the time came to send out the invitations to friends and family, Bayley realized why she was uncomfortable. After three years as a member of the Missionary Childhood Association, she knew there were children around the world who needed the very basics of life. Bayley knew she did not need more books, hair ribbons, and toys that she would receive at the party. She asked her mother to include a line in the invitation: “Instead of a gift for Bayley, please bring the money you would have spent and we will donate it to children in the missions.”
As her missionary heart grew, Bayley went on to have these “mission birthday parties” for the rest of elementary school. She has personally raised almost $2,000 for children in the missions.
Those responsible for Bayley’s faith formation incorporated the programs of the Missionary Childhood Association into their curriculum. As a result, Bayley learned that, through her faith, she had the power to change the world without ever leaving her home — she could be a missionary.
Children Helping Children
The Missionary Childhood Association — a Pontifical Mission Society and the official mission agency of the Church for children — began in 1843 as a response to a mission experience. French Bishop Charles Forbin de Janson sailed across the ocean and landed in New York. He spent two years visiting the Dioceses of Baltimore and New Orleans, traveling as far as Canada on horseback. He preached retreats, gave parish missions, celebrated Mass for people who waited for months for a priest to pass by, and gathered children together for faith formation.
After his eye-opening experience, Bishop Forbin de Janson appealed to the children of France to pray one Hail Mary every day and sacrifice to help the children of the missions by earning their own funds. They did odd jobs, gave up treats, or went without presents so that children in the United States, China, and other mission lands could receive the gift of faith through missionaries. He founded this Catholic mission agency with children as the protagonists to build on the work of Pauline Marie Jaricot and her growing society, the Propagation of the Faith.
Today the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA) continues to follow the plan laid out by Forbin de Janson — the motto is still “children helping children.” Young people in parish faith formation programs and Catholic schools learn about the great needs of the world’s poorest children and are invited to pray and offer their sacrifices so that children in the missions can know that God loves them. This prayerful support is foundational to the missionaries being able to share the corporal and spiritual works of mercy with children in the missions. These little ones then have a chance to grow up and become the people God intended them to be, sharing their own talents and gifts with others.
Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM Cap, Archbishop of Boston, has said:
“It is not only the children of the missions who benefit from the work of this Church Society. Our children grow too: by giving of themselves, by learning of the world around them, and by finding that through their faith, they can make a real difference in the world.”
Missionary Childhood Association helps children put their faith into action locally in ways that enrich their own community and touch the global Church, as well.
The children of Saint Clare Parish: It was Christmas time — a time for “wish lists” for most children. After learning that many children in the missions miss school and work all day in order to help feed their families, the Missionary Childhood members of Saint Clare Parish in Braintree, Massachusetts, had a different list. They wished for better opportunities for their brothers and sisters in the missions. Led by the Confirmation class, they hosted a parish-wide spaghetti dinner and served meals to more than 100 people. During the dinner, they shared stories of the reason for the meal — to donate to MCA’s general fund so missionaries could feed more hungry children.
While each diocese may have a different way of implementing MCA, the basics of forming a missionary spirit in our Catholic students remain the same: We must be aware of the “least of our brothers and sisters” and act through faith to help them.
Many times an MCA representative will visit classrooms to bring the missions to life — through pictures, videos, and real-time stories of what life is like for children struggling in the developing world. These visits help students to better understand the reality of what it is like to live without clean water, access to education, or proper nutrition. The presentations also show students the results of their prayers and sacrifices: Schools are being built, meals are being served, the gospel is being proclaimed, and real children are benefiting from it. The students learn that, through their faith in Jesus, they can make a difference without leaving their hometowns. They can be “stationary missionaries.” During a mission talk, students are asked to make a commitment to spread the gospel daily with their words and actions. This is a fundamental part of not just MCA, but of our faith. Jesus didn’t say, “Go to the ends of the earth and preach my gospel — if you have nothing better to do, and it’s not raining, soccer practice was canceled, there’s nothing on TV, and you feel like doing it.” He said, “GO!” (All the children get it when they are asked what it means when their mothers point and yell “GO!”) MCA shows students that faith is not a “sometimes” job.
MCA members are formed to recognize the interdependence we have with our fellow Catholics around the world. We are all part of one Church, working to spread the gospel, whether children live in Boston or Bangalore, Las Vegas or Lusaka. MCA is present in every diocese and Church territory in the world, instilling a missionary spirit in children.
The children of St. Peter Parish: During summer vacation, most children in Plymouth, Massachusetts, are enjoying the beach. The students of St. Peter Parish, however, do not take a break from classes or from the missions. Their MCA visitor brought Fr. Alex from Jinja, Uganda, to speak to the students. Fr. Alex is in charge MCA in his own diocese, and he spoke of his own young MCA members praying and sacrificing from what little they had; they saw that true poverty for children was not knowing about God’s love. The Plymouth students were so moved they decided to sacrifice their time and host a lemonade stand — with a twist. They set a table with a world map, a crucifix, and a World Mission Rosary on the main street in front of the church. They also hung posters with Bible verses and balloons. Then, if someone was willing to listen to a story about the work of Catholic missionaries the students had learned over their years of MCA membership, they received a cup of free lemonade! Donations were accepted, and in just two hours they raised $256.01!
The Missionary Childhood Association teaches children to be proud of being Catholic and bring their faith into the public arena. With the grace of God and the talents he has given them, each child of ours is on a different mission.
The Missionary Childhood Association is working to help students develop their own missionary spirit so when they hear God telling them to “GO!”, they will be prepared to make a faith-filled difference in the world throughout their lives.
MAUREEN CROWLEY HEIL is in her 19th year of ministry with the Pontifical Mission Societies — the parent organization of the Missionary Childhood Association. Formerly of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she was a member of the Societies’ national board, she continues to serve the missions today in her work within the Archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts
PHOTO: MB IMAGES
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, April-May, 2018.
Image from Missionary Childhood Association